Ingredient Watch: Formaldehyde

Many of us are becoming more concerned about exactly what goes into our skincare and cosmetic products. Yet while we’re learning to look for natural ingredients and their benefits, a lot of products still have the scientific name for chemicals in their ingredient list that, for all we know, could be anything!

That’s why we’ve decided to start a series all about the ingredients that you should be aware of and watch out for within the products you use.

First up we’re putting formaldehyde under the microscope!

Where it’s found:

Formaldehyde is found in a lot of personal care products; from your nail polish, eyelash glue and hair gel, to your body wash and some liquid cosmetics.

What does formaldehyde do? 

It is added to water-based products in order to prevent bacteria from growing.

Avoid it because:

Formaldehyde has been linked to cancer and skin irritations.

While some argue that the risk of cancer is higher for people who work in environments with a high percentage of formaldehyde in the air (such as industrial workers), many health expert health agencies list the substance as ‘carcinogen to humans’.

What to look for:

Check your labels for any of the names it goes under such as formaldehyde, DMDM hydantoin, quaternium-15, polyoxymethylene urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-ntiropropane-1, 3-did (bromopol) and glyocal.

How to avoid it:

Read the labels for any of the above names that it can come under. Opt for ‘formaldehyde-free’ products, and don’t use products out of date as these have a higher chance of a build-up of formaldehyde being released.


Formaldehyde is a colourless gas with a very strong odour. It can be added directly to a product or is released from preservatives such as quaternium-15 and DMDM hydantoin. These preservatives release the gas in small amounts over time.

It’s important to note that formaldehyde is a naturally occurring gas, in fact humans create a small amount as part of our metabolic process! It is only a concern when we are exposed to higher concentrations.

Rachel x


Image Credit: the formaldehyde-free polishes from Scout Cosmetics

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